Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Road Report: Park City, Utah

My father is the original Road Warrior. Retired 24 years, the last nine of which have been spent traveling constantly in a motorhome with his fifth wife, Papa Clisby is the ideal partner for a cross-country road trip. (I have told my father that I will play Johnny Cash singing, "I've Been Everywhere" at his funeral and he likes this idea, a lot.) He understands maps, rest areas, cheap motels and communicating through headlights and turn signals. Not only does he have endless patience (a key ingredient if I am your daughter) but he is joyfully self-entertaining. With the help of numerous cigars (Phillies Titan is his preferred brand,) the man can sit for hours without complaint and "people watch."

At various stops thus far, historical signs educate us about the treacherous desert we are crossing and how various wagons trains tried, failed, tried, died and tried again to cross it. Coming west for these pioneers was risky business. We ponder this as Dad eats an ice cream sandwich and I wonder if we can find a hotel with high-speed internet for the night's rest.

After a late night, Dad and I woke up this morning in Elko, Nevada - Dad had tried his hand at the slots (they are even in the grocery stores here) but no luck. Our non-smoking room, which reeked of nicotine, was snugly located above the giant neon 'O' at Stockman's Hotel & Casino. I had wanted to stop in this old ranching town because it hosts the Cowboy Poetry Festival every January. I plan to attend this event at some point in my life but for now, we're just passing through. But before we left, Elko had an important lesson to teach me.

Talk about derailment. I'd accidentally locked my truck keys in the enclosed bed of my truck and my cell phone was completely MIA. On top of this, I had ceremoniously smoked my last bowl of weed, which I had saved especially for this day, the final day of May. (Though the cell phone was eventually recovered, that saga has its own lessons, I'm sure.)

It all came to a head when we found ourselves in the parking lot of Elko's Wal-Mart, an establishment I loathe with every fiber of my being. My father handed me his phone card, told me there was a pay phone in the Wal-Mart and pointed me toward the front door. We've been arguing about Wal-Mart since 2003 and I was very proud of the fact that I'd never visited one. He took his chance and refused to make the call for me, I would have to go in.

Ragingly high, I made the long walk into the gaping, gluttonous maw of this heinous enterprise and marveled at the situation. I was facing my personal nightmare. All my judgements and high-minded politics had to be put to the side and I was forced to turn to Wal-Mart for help. Thankfully, the pay phone (so quaint!) was located just in the shopping cart vestibule and I did my deed without reaching the belly of the beast.

The moral of the story? Phone cards will save your ass. Add them to your survival kit.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Goodbye, San Francisco

It's done. Amazingly, the U-Haul is tightly packed with all my wordly posessions; with the loving help of friends, family and a couple of hard-working Mexicans, my entire life fit into one metal box.

Once it was all loaded, I couldn't help thinking, "Man, the whole thing could go over a cliff and it would be okay." Perhaps this is the early effects of my new relationship but going through all my useless stuff, I realize, it doesn't mean much and that less is definitely more.

Of course, it is a sparkling beautiful day here in San Francisco. Still, I will leave today without a look back. God knows, I love this town - who doesn't? - but my eyes need new scenery, my heart craves new challenges and I am so anxious to meet the new woman I will soon become.

In about 30 minutes, I will cross the Bay Bridge and I will thank the City, for hosting the last nine years of my life: Those moneyed days of the Dot Com Boom, the Devil-ettes, the horses, MUNI, helping lost tourists, Farmer's Market, the anti-war protests, Chinese New Year, our seasonal parties, falling asleep to the foghorn and best of all, my beloved Presidio. I was always so proud to say "San Francisco" when folks asked where I lived. Oh, their eyes would light up! They would swoon and always say the same thing, "Ohhhhh, I LOVE San Francisco!" I never tired of this reaction - made me so proud.

Undoubtedly, when I return for a visit, I will see it with a new pair of eyes, those of a tourist. Like running into an old love, you marvel that it was someone you once knew well but is now only an acquaintance. I'm sure The City will always hold a special place in my heart but I'm sure as hell not leaving it here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hometown Blues

In my first official week telecommuting, I find myself in the bedroom I grew up in. As I host conference calls, prepare budgets and manage projects, my eyes look upon dusty cheerleading trophies, long-forgotten stuffed animals and many, many photos of The Grandchild. Sure, my childhood bedroom, now my mother's office, is not a cubicle but is definitely a trapping of a different sort.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hercules Crushes Wal-Mart

Ah, nothing like a town that lives up to its name.

Named for a local dynamite factory, the independent-minded Bay Area burg of Hercules put their mighty explosive foot down today and said "No!" to the gluttonous bully that is Wal-Mart. I'd only visited the town once, to attend a baby shower, and was notably impressed.

Though Hercules includes mostly new homes, efforts have been made to avoid what I call The Disease of Sameness - the mindless architectural ugliness that is creeping across the land. The house designs exhibit a surprising degree of - gasp! - originality. Paths for pedestrians and bicyclists are everywhere and the new waterfront is being built around historical structures and will include small businesses, not just another block of JambaJuice-Starbuck's-Togo'

See? It can indeed be done. Giants can be denied. This gives me great hope.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Chick Cabin Weekend

Every spring, a special female contingent gathers in the woods. We kiss our husbands and lovers goodbye, hug our little ones, close the laptops and put most of modern life on hold to share a small space at 7,200 feet. It is here that the hair comes down, the beer and chips come out and we are silly Girls once again.

Specifically, we meet at Chez Clisby, my family's humble cabin in Green Valley Lake. This year, we busted open the weathered front door only to be greeted by three dead mice, a million angry fire ants and an exploding toilet. Ah, home at last!

There are but three rules for Chick Cabin Weekend:

-No men (Exceptions: Local handymen who inevitably come to fix things and the AAA dudes who help Debbie with her car dramas, every single year)
-No kids
-No work

And this year, we've added a new one:

All cell phone calls are to be made outside the cabin. (The intrusion of technology in a rustic place with no phone or TV is sacrilegious not to mention, annoying.)

For a few days, we eat, drink, hike and discuss our lives down to the last detail. If something is held back, I can't possibly imagine what it would be. We've dealt with marriages, divorces, child-rearing, political differences, religion, financial independence, parental mortality, infidelity, health issues, pop culture, celebrity love lives, spiritual crisis, body image, real estate, cooking, female relationships, education and, of course, sex. Now that we are all gradually passing over the 40+ mark, we now discuss the breakdown of our bodies and how a little plastic surgery never hurt anyone, except at the very beginning when it stings like a motherfucker.

This past weekend marks the eighth year in a row we have met and for many of us, it is the only time we see one another. As our lives become more focused on our families, relationships and careers, CCW marks the only time we screech to a halt and say, "Enough! I'll be having a beer and a chocolate donut for breakfast, dammit, don't try to stop me. Not only that, I may even take a nap without anyone demanding anything from me and do some backwoods disco dancing before the evening Feast." It is a holiday deliberately squeezed between Mother's Day and Memorial Day and it has become one long session of doing whatever the hell we want, whenever we want.

To close the weekend, we hike to a boulder perch overlooking Lake Arrowhead and hold Blessing on the Rocks, where we offer encouragement to those who are setting off a great adventures or taking big risks. It began with Heidi last year, who was going on a summer road trip to her newly purchased cabin in Nova Scotia. It turned out to be such a magical experience, she's repeating the trek again this summer.

This year, three of us were singled out for upcoming changes in our lives: Sharon, four months pregnant with Elliott, is preparing to raise a son on her own. Andrea, who has finally learned to never say "Never!" will re-marry in June, after finding love with an old friend. And me, for moving to Denver to build a new life with Man, the truest, bluest angel I have ever met.

All these brave acts come with risks but with the blessing and love of our sisters, we will never have to truly face them alone.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Bare Essentials

Narrow it down, whittling my Queendom of Crap to more of a tiny hamlet called Crapville, I consider what items I will need with me beyond clothes for nearly two weeks in Southern California.

To help me decide, I've designated a stark white empty shelf in the living room and have gradually begun to put things there, only the essentials allowed. I'll try and limit myself to 10 items so this could be tough. Each thing should be thought about with great care but after birthing the idea, I had some initial reactions.

The first item, a Master Key Chain: Apartment, mail, truck, cabin. Number Two, a digital camera - this is going to be an adventure, after all. The Third, a piece of decorated shiny cardboard that says: "This is a new day, one that I have never lived before. I stay in the Now and enjoy each and every moment."

That should be enough for now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Party's Over

Nothing marks the end of an era like giving away all your alcohol to someone half your age.

My friend, Maria - a young version of me, only smarter and better looking - came by tonight to see what trinkets of my past might enhance her future. The giant liter bottles of rum, gin, vodka, tequila and vermouth were dusty testaments to a raucous life now past and Maria was only too happy to carry on the debauchery in my honor. I reasoned, why drag all that booze across country to hang out with Man, who does not drink? Pointless.

As I encouraged her to take the purple wig, still dusty from various Burning Man escapades, I was acutely aware of how much fun I'd had during my San Francisco years. My bank account, my hat collection and the giant purple feather headdress exist as testaments that I spared no expense when it came to celebrating . . . um, whatever was demanding to be celebrated. Living above ground has always been reason enough and that gleeful gratitude will certainly continue on an even deeper level in Denver.

Meanwhile, the pondering of Stuff will be a recurring theme in my new life and not just during this transition. Y'see, Man does not do Stuff; he generally eschews the gathering and acquiring of Things. By his own account, he owns a laptop, three bicycles and some clothes. No furniture - he sleeps on plywood over milk crates. Thus, he has earned a nickname among my friends, "Monk Man" or lately, just "Monk."

I must crave some education in this area because I find this philosophy very appealing. As I pack up all my crap, I've also become begrudgingly envious. One Sunday after going through boxes and boxes of faded old photo albums from the 80s, I asked Man when he would start packing his own things for his move from Grand Junction to Denver: "I'll probably start packing an hour or so before I leave."

Hmph. I can only hope to pick up a few pointers from him while at the same time, avoid splinters.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Forgotten Planet: North Dakota

Confidantes know well my deep devotion to our nation's most forgotten square, my beloved high plains oasis, North Dakota, the Peace Garden State. I've always said going to North Dakota was like going to the Moon. Beyond the fact that it is painfully far, the overall feeling is different, like you've gone through several planes of reality and have landed on an Earth-like planet. At long last, NASA is finally taking me seriously.

The landscape, with or without the Badlands, is almost entirely without undulation. The dead flat-line of the horizon dares you to chase it down and find a curve, any curve at all. When my Mississippi sister-in-law came for a visit, she was fascinated but happy to head home, declaring with a twang: "I'm tired of driving around in squares."

There's more slippery weirdness north of South Dakota than most people would guess and I was the least surprised when the Cohen brothers opted to name their black comedy after that blazing NoDak metropolis, Fargo. Just because they've got those cute accents, doesn't mean they don't know about big life city things, dontchaknow.

When photographer Spencer Tunnick set off to photograph random strangers in the nude in each of the 50 states, he dreaded NoDak the most, figuring he that not only would he offend the locals, he would probably be permanently barred from the state. To his great surprise, he found no shortage of friendly NoDak citizens more than happy to disrobe.

Then there are the bizarre acts of nature. I'm telling you, it's like God and Mama Nature regularly get drunk together on some lip-smacking NoDak ethanol and before they have sloppy deity sex, they take turns with their powers and figure no one is around so ...

What mini blog tribute would be complete without the mentioning of Salem Sue, the World's Largest Holstein Cow? I've picknicked under her udder and she is Mi-T, Mi-T, just letting it all hang out. Or how about the World's Largest Pile of Oil Cans? Today, it's just funky prarie art but soon it will be a global political statement. Either way, parking will always be free.

Last but certainly not least, when Al Franken, master of political satire, went on "The Daily Show" and Jon Stewart asked him seriously which Democrat exhibited the most spine in the Senate, the first name out of his mouth? My hero, Byron Dorgan, the jr. senator from North Dakota! The very place most famous for not being the place that contains Mt. Rushmore.

Well, I think we can all leave this place a little bit more enlightented, you betcha. Now come on in, I've just baked a fresh pie and it will be soooo nice to have some company, y'know.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Clearing House

Last night, I opened the front door to my dearest friends and asked them – begged them – to take, take, take my treasures away. Though I am not a shopper and harbor a deep fear of purchasing anything non-edible, I have a knack for acquiring treasures of undetermined value. It's not the dollar value I wrestle with, but the sentimentality makes me hold on.

Paulina left wearing my puckered red ‘80s ski jacket while Jamie Lee made off with my Grandmother’s hot pink velvet feathered hat, circa 1940. Mat found a rugged olive coat, which fit him perfectly, and little Raidon fell in love with the alien ray gun from “Mars Attacks!” Thought we almost had a dream pairing with cellist, Hugh Fox, and the swanky men’s smoking jacket but the garment was too damn small. Talented singer, Karen Soo Hoo, was thrilled with her new keyboard (which includes a button for ‘Bossanova’) while part-time jewel thief, Rory, saw a shiny future together with his newly acquired .38 pistol. It feels good to give back, y’know?

Oh, and the books. Lots of books. The hilarious and astute cultural observer, Robert Ayala, was pleased with his copy of “The U.S. Constitution for Beginners” while the world-famous poet, David Holler, found himself captivated by “You Can’t Win” written by a petty criminal of the ’20 and ‘30s, Jack Black, with introduction by William S.Burroughs. All through the evening, folks wished me well, asked me about the Man and wondered aloud when or if they might come to Denver for a visit.

Now, I’m here with a house full of boxes and I ponder the nine years spent in this apartment. There was much laughter in the first few years but there were many dark times here as well. Overall, I’m grateful for the space. Rent control in a beautiful safe, Presidio neighborhood with tons of parking has been wonderful, if not surreal.

I am at a portal and am about to walk into a brand new life. An unexplored state, a new city at a higher elevation and a life of gardening, writing, horses and Love. I have tried not to overthink too much about what all this means but I know that it sounds like Heaven.

I hope my new place has plenty of storage space . . .

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Gears and Hooves

I spent the last few days at Joshua Tree, my very favorite place on Earth, sleeping under the stars, watching jack rabbits hop and lizards scurry. After a month-long separation, I met up with my Man and met a batch of his friends. Like him, they are all blessed with - some might say stricken with - a level of awareness that accepts the end of life as we know it.

I'm not talking about the end of the world, just the cessation of this cushy modern life we've become so accustomed to. Running out of oil is just the beginning. Little by little, it will dawn on people that our infrastructure is as delicate as it sounds. It will be up to the individual to create their own source of food, energy and fuel. Katrina made that point very clear and I'm proud that my brother was well prepared for this while others remain blissfully unaware or perhaps, they prefer ignorance to action.

Even as I drove my Ford Ranger down the 5, I was aware of how road trips like this will soon be a luxury. My Man, of course, is already prepared; he does not own a car but rather, three bicycles. I, myself, would prefer travel by horse but understand this would require a bit more of my time and energy to maintain. My own mother rode bareback to school on her feisty horse, Betsy. How hard can it be?

Pondering the loss of air travel will be tough for me. I am so accustomed to being in an airport; it would be like never seeing a best friend again. In fact, mere hours after I got home from J-Tree, I boarded a plan for Austin, Texas, where I am now. I sleepwalked through the entire process and can barely remember how I got here. So much of it is by rote.

Still, change is good - it instigates growth by creating need, fostering new ideas and birthing innovation. This is what we've slowed on, thereby allowing complacency to rise and apathy to settle in. Fat and lazy does not bode well for survival in this stripped down world we will soon be inheriting. The generation behind us will surely be a brilliant bunch - the situation will demand it.